April 13, 2018 / 6:49 AM / in a year

Australia, NZ shares gain as fears of imminent U.S. strike on Syria ease

* Rio Tinto gains 2 percent, records 5th straight daily gain

* NZ’s Fletcher Building jumps 8.6 pct on reports of Wesfarmers buying shares

* Blackstone-advised funds to buy AMA Group’s vehicle panel business (Updates to close)

April 13 (Reuters) - Australia shares gained on Friday helped largely by materials and health care stocks, following global markets higher after fears of an imminent U.S. attack on Syria eased.

President Donald Trump cast doubt on Thursday over the timing of his threatened strike on Syria in response to a reported poison gas attack.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 percent, or 13.6 points, to 5,829.1. It fell 0.2 percent on Thursday.

Australia shares had started Friday strongly but their gains were trimmed after data showed China recording a rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion for the month of March, the first since last February.

Aussie shares closed the week 0.7 percent higher, up for a second straight week.

Resource stocks performed strongly, with the Australian mining index firming 0.7 percent to end at its highest close in nearly a month and a half. For the week, the sector index gained 4.3 percent as hopes grow the United States and China will be able to put aside testy rhetoric and eventually reach a compromise that will avert the risk of a trade war.

“Perhaps some of the concerns over the impact of the rhetoric and discussions around the trade wars has just been a little bit of a reassessment of what the downside actually is,” said Damien Hennessy, co-founder of Heuristic Investment Systems.

“I think that is kind of flowing through to the miners, and the materials sector more generally.”

Global miner Rio Tinto rose 2 percent to its highest close since the end of February. The stock finished a fifth straight session higher.

Mining rival BHP rose 0.3 percent, posting a sixth straight session of gains.

Moving in the other direction, the financial index edged 0.1 percent lower, with National Australia Bank Ltd slipping 0.7 percent.

Energy stocks were 0.1 percent lower after oil prices eased. However, prices of the world most traded commodity were set for the biggest weekly gains in more than 8 months.

Australia’s energy index has tacked on 1.9 percent for the week.

Oil Search Limited rose 0.4 percent and Santos Ltd slipped 1 percent. Earlier on Friday, they announced in separate statements that ExxonMobil Corp resumed production at the Papua New Guinea liquefied natural gas project.

Automotive aftercare firm AMA Group Ltd said on Friday it would spin off its automotive component, accessory and procurement business and separately sell its vehicle panel repair arm to funds advised by buyout firm Blackstone Group for an enterprise value of A$508 million ($394.92 million).

AMA shares fell to their lowest since October during the session but recovered some lost ground to close 3.8 percent lower.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index added 0.1 percent, or 10.55 points, to 8,414.77, buttressed by materials and health care stocks.

Homebuilder Fletcher Building Ltd ended at a three-week closing high on media reports that Australia’s Wesfarmers Ltd was accumulating Fletcher stock.

The firm’s shares closed 8.6 percent higher but it said it could neither confirm nor deny such reports. (Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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